Mitchell Pearce and a generation of NSW children finally know what it is like to dominate State of Origin.
As he stood in the Blues medical room conducting interviews after being part of a series winning team for the first time since making his Origin debut in 2008, Pearce said: “The state will be happy and that’s all I’m worried about”.
Yet so many others in the packed dressing room were happiest for Pearce, who cast aside the demons of eight losing series to throw a pass to Tom Trbojevic that resulted in James Tedesco scoring just 23 seconds from full-time to secure back-to-back NSW series wins for the first time since 2005.
“A lot of the boys spoke the night before about how much it hurt through that Queensland dynasty,” interchange forward Cameron Murray said.
“Hearing Pearcy speak about how much the Blues jersey meant to him and how badly he wanted to be successful after living through that period and going through some hardships playing against probably the best Queensland side ever made it a lot more special.”
Blues coach Brad Fittler made special mention of Pearce in the post-match press conference after calling him into the side last week when Nathan Cleary failed a fitness on his injured ankle.
“He set the try up, if he doesn’t throw the ball out there and if he doesn’t spot the space we go into extra time, and they were going better than us,” Fittler said.
It had been so long since NSW has won Origin in consecutive years that Fittler and the entire bench, including injured forward Wade Graham, rushed on to the field to celebrate after Tedesco’s try with five-eighth James Maloney still waiting to convert.
So often the scapegoat for the Blues lack of success during Queensland’s era of domination, Pearce admitted just being in the room where the interview took place conjured up bad memories so for him to throw the pass that led to Tedesco’s try took courage.
“I’m just glad we won. There would have been one script if we won and another one if we lost,” Pearce joked.
“I have played in a lot of these games and that was a tough game of footy. In the first half, they got a lot of the rub of the green, they earned that, they had a lot of possession at our end a lot and we just had to hang on.
“It was a war of attrition sort of game for us, playing out of our own end a lot, and Freddie gave us a bit of a spray at half-time about getting physical and getting fair dinkum. I thought the 30 minutes after half-time we played some really good footy but we couldn’t get that knock-out punch.
“That last eight minutes, I don’t want to live that again. That sucked.”
Match: Blues v Maroons
Game 3 -
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
- Nine Network
Asked if he felt happy or simply relieved to finally taste success, Pearce said: “I can’t nail what the exact emotion is now. I just feel grateful to be called back into the team.
“This is a special team Freddie has got, it is all about the team and it is all about NSW. They are creating a really good thing here, I have been out of it for a few years and coming back in I just wanted to compete and do NSW proud.”
Tedesco’s try was being compared to the Mark Coyne “miracle” for Queensland on the last tackle of the 1994 series opener but Pearce said his only thoughts when he threw the pass to Tbrojevic was to try and get NSW into good field position.
While most were thinking a field goal would be needed to break the 20-20 deadlock, Trbojevic found Blake Ferguson in support and Tedesco backed up to snatch victory.
“I knew we needed to play. There was about 50 seconds to go when we got the ball, you’ve got to play then,” Pearce said.
“You’ve got to get yourself into some sort of field position without taking a risk or making an error. Big Turbo was standing out there and he’s been my roommate. Maybe we just got a bit of cohesion, a bit of a connection.”
While most of the post-match focus was on Pearce and two-try hero Tedesco, the Wally Lewis Medal winner as player of the series, the NSW bench played a significant role in the 26-20 triumph.
Dale Finucane and Paul Vaughan helped to regain momentum for NSW in the first half, while Murray and Wade Graham were heavily involved as the Blues dominated most of the second half.
Even with the scores level at 8-8 at half-time, NSW fans among the 82,565 crowd at ANZ Stadium must have been concerned their wait for back-to-back series wins would continue as Queensland dominated the opening 40 minutes.
Maroons fullback Cameron Munster was the best player on the field in the first half, running 111 metres with the ball and making seven tackle breaks as NSW struggled to contain him in his new role.
It took a double interchange by Fittler to help the Blues wrestle back control, with Vaughan and Finucane replacing starting props David Klemmer and Daniel Saifiti in the 22nd minute.
The NSW forwards had struggled to get over the advantage line in the early exchanges but Finucane carried the ball for 65 metres from six runs in 18 minutes before half-time while Vaughan crashed over for the 35th minute try that drew the scores level.
Finucane finished the match with 120 metres from 12 carries of the ball.
The introduction of Murray and Graham early in the second half coincided with NSW’s most dominant period of the match as Tedesco and Damien Cook scored tries to put the Blues 12 points ahead.
Murray replaced Vaughan in the 47th minute and came up with three huge plays – a one-on-one steal near the Queensland line, a long break that almost led to a third NSW try midway through the second half and a try-saving tackle on Corey Oates late in the match.
He ran 90 metres from his seven carries with the ball.
Graham was sent into the fray three minutes after Murray as left second-rower in place of captain Boyd Cordner and ran as a decoy runner for Pearce before he put Tedesco over in the 53rd minute to give the Blues a 14-8 lead.
A hamstring injury forced Graham from the field in the 67th minute and the Maroons scored two late tries on the edge he had been defending to draw the scores level again before Tedesco’s try for the ages.